Explained: What is EB1, EB2, and EB3 Visa Categories?

By Kevin Sy

Following the EB1 Visa's path for the exceptionally skilled, the EB2 visa category serves as a beacon for professionals with advanced degrees or those who demonstrate exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business. This visa is tailored for individuals who have surpassed a bachelor's degree, possessing either a master's or its equivalent, or a bachelor's degree with a minimum of five years progressive experience in their field. Exceptional ability is defined by one's potential to significantly benefit the U.S. economy, educational systems, or welfare.

Securing an EB2 visa demands rigorous documentation. Degree holders must validate the equivalence of their foreign degrees to U.S. educational standards, often necessitating detailed educational assessments and transcript records. For those acclaimed for exceptional ability, the documentation could span from peer-reviewed publications and professional accolades to substantial contributions within their industry, corroborated by commendations from peers or industry authorities.

Most EB2 candidates are required to obtain a labor certification, affirming that their role cannot be filled by capable, willing U.S. workers. However, the pathway of a National Interest Waiver (NIW) stands as an exception, waiving the need for labor certification for those whose endeavors are considered of significant merit and of national interest.

The journey towards an EB2 visa typically involves an employer's sponsorship, with the exception of NIW applicants. The employer must file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, initiating the candidate's progression through the visa application process which encompasses thorough background checks and personal interviews.

Introduction to US Employment-Based Visas

US Employment-Based Visas

The quest for a career in the United States begins with understanding the landscape of employment-based visas available to professionals worldwide. Such visas are integral to the US economy, as they cater to the labor demands by welcoming skilled workers, professionals, and other specialized roles. Each category under the employment-based visa umbrella has distinct criteria and application processes tailored to meet these needs.

Among the various types of employment-based visas, the H-1B visa is often the most recognized, designated for specialty occupations demanding at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. Other significant visa types include the L-1 visa for intra-company transferees and the O-1 visa for individuals of extraordinary ability. Additionally, the EB visa series—comprising EB1, EB2, and EB3 categories—offers a pathway to permanent residency for qualifying employment candidates.

While the process to secure a US work visa may appear complex, it is a journey undertaken by many professionals who now enjoy successful careers in various American industries. Whether one is an artist desiring to reach a broader audience, a tech expert aspiring to the innovation hubs of Silicon Valley, or a healthcare professional dedicated to making a difference, the proper resources and advice can unlock a realm of professional opportunities.

Each category of work visa comes with its own regulatory framework, including specific processing times and associated costs. It is essential to identify the visa category that aligns with your career ambitions and qualifications. Professional legal advice or the services of a specialized agency can be invaluable in navigating the visa application process, ensuring accurate completion of all necessary documentation and enhancing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

Comparing EB1, EB2, and EB3: Key Differences

US Immigration Visa Categories
As we delve deeper into the intricacies of US employment-based visas, it becomes evident that each category within the EB1, EB2, and EB3 spectrum stands unique, catering to a diverse range of professionals, artists, and workers. The EB1 visa category, heralded as the Employment-Based First Preference, is tailored for individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary abilities in their respective fields, which includes renowned professors, researchers, and certain multinational executives. The hallmark of this category is that it allows a path to the US without the prerequisite of a job offer, provided the applicant's work is recognized as beneficial to the US.

Transitioning to the EB2 visa category or Employment-Based Second Preference, this segment is reserved for those with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in the arts, sciences, or business. In contrast to the EB1, EB2 applicants are generally expected to have a job offer and must undergo labor certification to affirm that their employment will not displace qualified US workers. Yet, the National Interest Waiver (NIW) stands as a pivotal exception, offering a route that circumvents the job offer requirement for those whose contributions are of substantial importance to the US.

The EB3 visa, known as the Employment-Based Third Preference, encompasses a more expansive pool of candidates, including skilled workers, professionals, and 'other workers.' While this category may have lower entry barriers, it concurrently sees heightened competition. Skilled workers and professionals are obliged to secure a job offer and labor certification, while 'other workers' typically fill roles in unskilled labor that are neither temporary nor seasonal.

With a clearer understanding of each category's distinct parameters, prospective applicants and employers can better strategize their approach to the US immigration process. As we move towards discussing the application process for EB visas, it is imperative to consider how the nuances of each category can influence the trajectory of an applicant's journey to achieving permanent residency.

Understanding the EB1 Visa Category and Eligibility

EB1 Visa Category

Building on the foundation of employment-based visas discussed earlier, the EB1 Visa emerges as the premier category within this framework, designed for the elite professionals who have demonstrated exceptional talent in their respective domains. As the first-preference category in the EB series, the EB1 stands out for catering to the \"cream of the crop\"—individuals who not only excel in their fields but whose contributions have received national or international recognition.

Securing a position within this exclusive visa class requires meeting rigorous standards. The EB1A subcategory is carved out for those with extraordinary abilities across a spectrum of areas, including the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. Prospective applicants must substantiate their superior standing through sustained acclaim at the national or international level, bolstered by extensive and well-documented evidence of their accomplishments.

For academics, the EB1B subcategory is the conduit for outstanding professors and researchers who have earned international distinction. To qualify, these scholars must have a minimum of three years of experience in teaching or research and must be poised to engage in tenure, tenure-track teaching, or a comparable research position within a higher education institution or equivalent in the United States.

The EB1C subcategory is tailored for multinational managers and executives with a history of employment outside the United States. To be eligible, they must have worked for at least one year in the three years preceding their application with the same enterprise or its affiliate or subsidiary, and they must be seeking to continue their managerial or executive roles within the same organization upon their arrival in the U.S.

Navigating the Application Process for EB Visas


Embarking on the path to an EB visa requires a comprehensive grasp of the procedures involved. With the distinctions between EB1, EB2, and EB3 visa categories in mind, it is imperative to first determine which of these paths aligns with your professional background and qualifications. The initial stage in this intricate process is to ascertain your eligibility, which is deeply rooted in your career achievements and the potential impact of your skills in the United States.

The subsequent paperwork is extensive and demands scrupulous attention to detail. As a prospective applicant, you must compile a dossier of evidence demonstrating your expertise, such as letters of endorsement, accolades, and proof of exceptional abilities. The critical step in the application is the submission of Form I-140, typically filed by an employer, which serves as the foundation for the entire EB visa petition.

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Following the petition's approval, the process diverges into either adjusting status or consular processing, contingent upon your current location. Those present within the U.S. will pursue adjustment of status, whereas applicants outside the country will engage in consular processing. Throughout this phase, adherence to USCIS guidelines or those of the consular office is crucial. It is essential to keep informed of any changes to immigration policies to navigate the final steps towards securing lawful permanent residency without hindrances.

Deciphering the EB3 Visa Category and Criteria

Following the EB2 visa discussion, the EB3 visa also offers a route to permanent residency in the United States, catering to a broader spectrum of workers. This category is inclusive of skilled workers, professionals, and other workers, the latter encompassing those in unskilled labor. Each subcategory under the EB3 has distinct eligibility criteria, which are pivotal for applicants seeking to establish their careers in the U.S.

Specifically, the Skilled Workers subcategory mandates a minimum of two years of job experience or training pertinent to the job they are being offered stateside. In contrast, the Professionals subcategory necessitates possession of a U.S. baccalaureate degree or its foreign equivalent, with the job in question requiring such educational qualifications. The Other Workers subcategory is designed for positions that demand less than two years of experience, targeting unskilled labor roles that are not extensively training-intensive.

The complexity of the EB3 category is not to be underestimated, as meeting the outlined criteria does not equate to an automatic visa issuance. The process entails a labor certification, which is a safeguard to protect the employment prospects and conditions for U.S. labor by ensuring the employment of foreign nationals will not negatively impact them. Notably, the annual limitation on EB3 visas can result in prolonged waiting times due to backlogs, especially for applicants from countries with a high demand for these visas.

In the context of sponsorship, akin to the EB2 category, the EB3 applicants must secure a U.S. employer willing to support their application. The employer is responsible for submitting a Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, and proving financial capability to pay the proposed salary. This underscores the significance of obtaining a job offer as a precursor to the visa application process for the EB3 category.